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Coaching Supervision: Self-Reflection and Lessons from Nature

It is amazing what insights emerge when we give ourselves time to notice and open our hearts to the work we do with others!

This is what struck me when out walking on a beautiful dry, crisp, clear and sunny afternoon as I reflected on a piece of supervision I had recently held with a small group of my clients.

I was thinking about how the session had gone, what had worked well and what could have been better when I noticed a solitary tree. The tree stood solid, rooted in the ground looking quite dark with the bright blue sky behind it. As I got closer I noticed the many branches reaching out in different directions, the birds nest supported high in its branches, the shape of the tree reaching out at different angles and yet holding some symmetry, the small birds hopping along the branches and then opening their wings and flying off across the land. I noticed the shape and texture change in the sunlight as I moved in a different direction and the detail I could see on the bark and the tiny shoots of green starting to emerge.

So, how does this relate to supervision you might ask?

Well, I thought about the very different needs of the clients working together with me in our supervision session; their different development levels and how we had worked with these differences in an authentic way. The branches of the tree made me think about flexibility – the need to be flexible and responsive in the work we do. The tree supports many things – the nest, a resting point for the birds, it nurtures the growing buds of blossom and it remains firmly grounded from its roots and yet is also vulnerable and exposed to the elements. It made me wonder about my own vulnerability as a supervisor; to what extent am I able to manage and allow my own vulnerability in my work, as I in return encourage the vulnerability of my clients? To what extent am I also able to remain firmly grounded and supportive of my clients in the midst of my and their vulnerability?

In the supervision session, one coach wanted much more practical support; the other was working on herself as a coach and her fear of delving too deeply with her client, whilst another brought a very specific client issue. I considered how I had allowed space for the group to bring what they needed, to provide some support and challenge for them and to encourage them to share their own observations with each other. Had I done this well enough, could I have done it differently and had I been sufficiently present in my work?

I thought about how the light on the tree changes how it looks; if I had moved in a different direction with my clients what might the responses and outcome have looked like. I was struck again by the choices we make in the moment and the impact that has on the here and now.

 We cannot change what we have already offered into our work but we can be aware of it, noticing the subtle signals as we work that tell us to move in one direction or another – a flutter in my finger, a tightening in my gut, a lightness of body as something shifts. Sometimes I can catch myself too heavily engrossed in thinking. Whilst thinking is valuable it can also get in the way of what we are feeling, what the signals in our body are telling us.

I thought of the fledgling bird as I reflected on the supervisee holding the fear of delving too deeply. We had explored that fear and where it came from, we had discussed the possibility that the client had come to the coach to offer some great learning. I had invited curiosity, I had offered feedback, I had encouraged reflection and I had stayed alongside this coach as she wrestled with what was going on for her. Her colleagues had been alongside her too, supporting, questioning and challenging but mostly just being present with her, allowing her to open her wings and embrace the wind that would take her to her best work with a client who had come to her for a reason.

I reflected on how we sometimes need to take risks, to be open, to hold firm in the knowledge of our capacity to be present for those who need us most – supporting, nurturing, encouraging – as coach, as supervisor and as a human being.

I considered the supervisee who wanted more practical support with the ‘right’ way to coach. I smiled as I reflected on the different presenting issues of these two supervisees and yet the support they both needed was equally valid. The other was the bird on the tip of the branch ready for that moment to lift up and fly, trusting their instinct and intuition that this will be the right moment. This one was the bird still in the nest, having its first look around and needing some support in what to do next, how to take those first tentative steps along the branch and to wobble, deciding which branch to take.

As I thought about the third supervisee, who had tried some different and creative things and wanted some feedback on how this had been managed, I was struck by the shape of the tree and the different directions the branches had grown. Over years each branch will have responded to the direction of the sun, the forces of the elements – wind and rain – as they created a direction of growth. This coach was creating the direction of their branch, through reflection and responding to challenge that may take a new direction or by continuing to move towards the sun that represents the successes they are having in their work.

As I walked away from the tree I felt content and understood that I will continue to nurture others and myself; I will struggle sometimes, I will stand firm in adversity, I will get things wrong and mostly I will continue to grow alongside those I work with.

My invitations to the readers of this piece are to ‘stop’, ‘notice’, ‘reflect’ and see what that brings up for you.

 © Jan Brause 2012  Jan is a CSA graduate. You can find out more about Jan’s work at: